Cannabis as a Campaign Issue

Cannabis as a Campaign Issue


The past few years have seen increased public support for the legalization of cannabis, with several states taking steps to tax and regulate its growing industry. A significant challenge to the legitimization of the industry has been the federal government’s policies that keep it illegal at that level.

However, that may very well change after the 2020 presidential election. The first few months of 2019 have seen several aspirants announce their intentions to seek the nation’s highest office. Many of them are using their support for federal cannabis legalization as part of their platforms. As such, cannabis could very well end up being a big issue in the upcoming presidential race.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in February. That bill would legalize cannabis by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances. It would also allow persons convicted of marijuana-related crimes to petition courts for sentencing relief.

Booker, the former mayor of Newark, is among those seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Other announced candidates for the nomination include U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and U.S. Sen. Kamala Karris (D-CA). All are co-sponsors of the Marijuana Justice Act.

Another newly announced 2020 presidential contender is former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. He gave up seeking re-election to his House seat in 2016 to mount an unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Despite his U.S. Senate loss, O’Rourke is still eyeing the presidency. In early March, O’Rourke publicly announced his support for the legalization of recreational cannabis.

Like Booker, O’Rourke is making the legalization part of a broader justice reform effort. That could prove critical to earning the support of minority voters, many of whom feel that the federal prohibitions and strict sentencing of non-violent offenders have disproportionately affected their communities.

What all of this means is that the federal legalization of cannabis may very well end up being discussed in both the U.S. Senate, as well as in the Democratic presidential primary debates that will be held early next year. Any change in federal policy that could result from the passage of the Marijuana Justice Act or the election of a presidential candidate running on a pro-legalization platform would have huge impacts on the industry as a whole.

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